Central Catholic eliminates Knights
Norwin recovered from a slow start, but a flying finish by Central Catholic put an end to the Knights' season.
Jesse Yeckel scored the game-winning goal 6:05 into overtime to give ninth-seeded Central Catholic a 5-4 win over No. 8 Norwin in the first round of the PIHL Class AAA playoffs at Center Ice Arena in Delmont on March 5.
Yeckel and Taylor Kirchner had two goals for the Vikings (11-9-2), while Dan Merz had two goals, and Marc Swankler and Tim Palmer each added a score for Norwin (11-11-0).
The Knights had an opportunity to be the team that moved on. Palmer scored on a 3-on-1 situation with assists from Merz and Eli Reith, which gave Norwin a 4-3 lead with 6:09 left in regulation. It looked even better for Norwin when Central Catholic's Kellen Carleton was called for tripping with 1:40 to play.
But Central Catholic pulled goalie Brian Burger in the final minute to skate 5-on-5 again, and with 25 seconds remaining, Alex Houser teed up a slapshot from the right boards that Neil Carleton redirected into the net for the tying goal.
“That's what we want to do, especially in playoffs, is get a lot of traffic in front of the net,” Central Catholic coach Bill Connelly said. “All it takes is one puck on net to go in, and thankfully, it did.”
Though Norwin remained on the power play in the early stages of overtime, Central Catholic was clearly in control of play. The Vikings outshot Norwin, 10-3, in the extra period.
“You don't want to let it get to overtime when you had a chance to win it in regulation,” Norwin coach Jim Reith said. “When it did, I thought they stole the momentum back from us, and they came out strong in the overtime.”
Norwin goalie Chad Albert made 35 saves, including a point-blank save with his right leg pad on Justin Yeckel less than two minutes into overtime. But Central Catholic's pressure paid off when Yeckel jammed home the winning goal after Chris McCambridge won a faceoff from the left circle and put the puck directly on net.
“Norwin's goalie made a ton of big saves tonight, and they did a good job blocking shots for him, too,” Connelly said. “We started to see him going up and down a lot, so we wanted to keep testing him late, thinking fatigue might set in.”
“Goaltending is so big, especially in a playoff game, and Chad gave us a chance to win tonight. What more can you ask for?” Reith said. “For a first-year starter, he looked like a veteran out there.
“He matured as the year went on, and he delivered when we needed him tonight.”
For all of Central Catholic's late momentum, the Vikings had just as much in the first period when they sped to a 2-0 lead on Kirchner's goals.
Norwin battled back in the second period, thanks in part to a series of Vikings penalties.
The Knights went on three consecutive power plays and Merz scored on two of them, both with hard wrist shots as he moved in from the blue line.
“The level of play and the speed that Central brought to the game, it took us a few minutes to react,” Reith said. “It wasn't a lack of effort, it was just realizing that we had to ratchet it up, and we got there in the second period.”
Norwin twice took the lead in the third period, only to have Central tie the contest each time.
The Knights had two chances to increase the lead to two, but Swankler shot wide on a second 3-on-1 rush and Moxie was pulled down from behind on a breakaway that resulted in Kellen Carleton's late penalty.
McCambridge finished with three assists for Central Catholic, while Reith had two for Norwin. The Vikings outshot Norwin, 39-29.
The loss brought the Knights season to an end one round short of their progress last year, but for second-year head coach Reith, the positives to be taken from the year outweigh the result from the final game.
“I said to (the players) what a priviledge and honor it has been to work with them, and to focus on the positives,” Reith said. “We had a huge win at State College in February, we took out (defending champ) Bethel Park and beat (top-seeded) Peters Township earlier in the year.
“This game tonight, I was so proud of the way they recaptured the momentum and took the lead. It just came down to a couple of bounces that didn't go our way tonight.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.